AWFJ Women On Film – “The Soloist” – Susan Granger reviews

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It’s late April but – finally – there’s a movie memorable enough to incite early Oscar buzz, featuring the combination of a story based in truth, actors who truly inhabit their characters and music that touches the heart.

One day while casting about for an intriguing human-interest story, Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) spies a homeless man passionately playing a two-stringed violin near Beethoven’s statue in a downtown park near Skid Row. Intrigued, he tries to engage Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) in conversation but learns only that he once went to Julliard but also that he firmly believes that Beethoven is the leader of Los Angeles. Curious but wary, Lopez makes inquiries and discovers Ayers was, indeed, a talented prodigy whose career was sidelined by schizophrenia. A cautious, often volatile yet tenacious friendship develops between the two disparate men as Lopez tries to get Ayers off the street and back into the world of music.

Working from Lopez’s book, screenwriter Susannah Grant (“Erin Brockovich”) crafts dialogue that’s deft, intelligent and laced with a sense of humor that is both defensive and revealing. British director Joe Wright’s (“Atonement”) graceful direction flows naturally and easily, giving it all an understated authenticity. What’s fascinating is how he views L.A. through the lens of a foreigner, capturing evocative views of a city in constant motion.

After learning how to bow and finger from Ben Hong, a cellist with the L.A. Philharmonic, Jamie Foxx attacks his role with breathtaking ferocity, delivering a fearless, scary, exhilarating performance, one of the most vulnerable of his career, while Robert Downey Jr. is superb as a complex, multi-layered reporter, striking not a single false note in a highly combustible mixture of emotions. Catherine Keener, Tom Hollander and Lisa Gay Hamilton give stalwart support.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Soloist” is a touching 10. A film of enormous integrity, it’s exquisitely acted, beautifully written, sensitively filmed and filled with memorable moments.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.